I’m slowly waking up this morning, my faithful mug filled with wonderfully black coffee, piping hot. It’s rainy and overcast and I’m watching my neighbors tiptoeing outside to pick up their soggy newspaper. The house is still dark and perfumed with the scent of my freshly toasted parmesan bagel. There is something extremely peaceful about this morning.
Earlier in the week, I noticed the most amazing bagels posted by Cenk at Cafe Fernando. He used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, a book that I’ve considered purchasing many times. I decided to give the bagel recipe a try first to see if it would be worthwhile to buy the book. I’ve since placed my book order :-)
Bagels are one of my favorite forms of bread. They are chewy but can also be crisp when toasted. They can be sweet or savory, used for any meal, and can be dressed up or down as you like. They can even be made into bagel chips!
The bagel recipe begins with a warning by Cenk that there will be kneading by hand involved. Given the quantity and stiffness of the dough, it will likely destroy a standard issue KitchenAid mixer. I’m not worried and figure it can’t be all that bad, as I’ve kneaded bread doughs many times before. So, I lay out my ingredients, already thinking ahead to how I will top the bagels.
I start by making the sponge and allowing it to rise. Next, additional yeast and flour are added. I used my mixer to begin the dough making process but after adding the last cup or so of flour it began to churn and make disturbing noises. I flipped it off and turned my blob of dough onto my work surface for kneading.
I kneaded the dough into a ball and at this point there is a remaining 3/4 cup of flour that you must knead into the dough. It sounds easy. I begin with a sprinkling of flour and realize it may be more difficult than first thought. The dough is stiff and from its chunky texture, I realize that I will likely be kneading longer than 10 minutes.
I push and roll the dough, continually moving it and working it. The muscles in my arms begin to slowly burn, and with each kneading movement they tighten and burn more. My calves started to also burn and it was then that I realized I was on the tips of my toes. I kneaded the bread on top of my wood cutting board which is 1.5″ thick, so in order to get the right leverage on the stiff dough I needed to be higher. I didn’t have a stool handy, so continued to work out my calves as well.
At this point, only about 5 minutes had passed. My breathing steadily increased throughout the kneading process and it was then that I hatched my latest idea … a workout video based on bread baking. I can see it now, “Don’t be a dough boy – knead your way to tighter buns” or “Need abs? Knead dough!”.
After a few expletives and seriously determined to never read Cafe Fernando again, my kneading stopped, somewhere around 15 minutes. It seemed like an eternity. I used a high-gluten bread flour which is suggested, while Cenk used all-purpose flour which required double the kneading time. He must be in amazing shape.
The dough is cut into 12 portions and shaped into balls. It’s important to take this step seriously as it determines the final shape of your bagels. For a perfect looking bagel, make a nicely round and smooth ball. After the balls rest for 20 minutes, they are then given their signature hole by using your thumb. Just poke it through the center of the ball until it touches your forefinger, then work it around to stretch out the center as desired.
Place bagels on greased baking sheet and allow to rest another 20 minutes then place into the fridge overnight. The next morning, mine looked like this:
I prepared the boiling water in which to boil the bagels, then set up plates with my topping ingredients. I used a mix of grated parmesan and crushed black pepper, freshly chopped rosemary, sesame seeds, and cinnamon/oatmeal/brown sugar.
After the bagels boiled for 2 minutes (I wanted mine extra-chewy), I allowed them to cool for a few seconds before dipping them in my ingredients. I suggest rolling them around so all sides are covered. In retrospect, I might use a bit of egg wash next time to help the sesame to adhere. After they baked, the seeds flaked off easily. Here are my bagels awaiting the hot oven:
I baked the bagels for a full 15 minutes until I achieved a golden-brown color. I cooled on a wire rack for a few minutes before splitting the first one open. The bagel was chewy and delicious, especially with the slab of butter I put on top of it.
While I expected my favorite topping to be sesame seeds, it turned out to be the parmesan/black pepper combo. It was the absolute best, so savory and rich. The oatmeal/cinnamon/brown sugar was a last minute idea and it tasted surprisingly good.
So, was it worth the effort? Of course, and I will make them again. I might even begin reading Cafe Fernando again :-)